The first major move of Phil Jackson's tenure will bring point guard Jose Calderon, center Samuel Dalembert, guard Wayne Ellington, guard Shane Larkin, and the No. 34 and No. 51 picks in Thursday's draft to New York. Prior to the trade, the Knicks didn't possess any 2014 draft picks. After the trade, the Mavericks no longer possess any 2014 draft picks.
All told, it's a classic rebuilding move for New York, who trims roughly $3 million from its 2014-15 salary cap, a number that could grow if the team opts to cut Dalembert, whose $3.9 million salary is only partially guaranteed. Chandler was set to make $14.6 million next season while Felton was on the books for $3.8 million in 2014-15 while also holding a $4 million player option for the 2015-16 season.
The 31-year-old Chandler missed nearly 30 games due to injury last year, averaging 8.7 points and 9.6 rebounds, both down from the previous year. Moving out the unpopular Felton, 29, also helps the franchise turn the page, as the embattled point guard struggled on the court -- averaging a career-low 9.7 points and shooting just 39.5 percent -- and faced felony gun charges off the court last season.
“The journey to build this team for the upcoming season and beyond continues,” Jackson said in a statement. “We have added players with this move that will fit right in to our system while maintaining future flexibility.
The highest-profile Knicks newcomer is the 32-year-old Calderon, who is owed more than $22 million over the next three seasons. A smooth-shooting, distribution-minded point guard, the Spaniard averaged 11.4 points and 4.7 assists and was a key piece in Dallas's No. 3 ranked offense; he must now make the transition to coach Derek Fisher's Triangle Offense or whether he's being acquired as a future trade piece. Dalembert, 33, could serve as a placeholder center for the Knicks following Chandler's departure, or he could be moved. New York has no other true centers under contract for next season, and Dalembert averaged 6.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while making 80 appearances last season.
Ellington, 26, was signed by Dallas to a two-year, $5.4 million contract last summer. Known mostly for his perimeter shooting during his five-year career, the UNC product played sparingly last season for coach Rick Carlisle. Larkin, 21, was a 2013 first-round pick who played less than 500 minutes as a rookie. A 5-foot-11 point guard out of Miami, Larkin broke his ankle during 2013 Summer League practice.
For Dallas, the swap brings back Chandler, who was allowed to leave following Dallas's 2011 title in a much-criticized decision. The Mavericks will look to revive the rim-protecting, rebound-gobbling big man who was named 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and made the 2013 All-Star team, while looking to shore up a No. 22 defense. Swapping Calderon for Felton frees Dallas from paying for the final three years of Calderon's deal, and it potentially increases their flexibility during the summer of 2015, when Chandler is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Mavericks, who must re-sign franchise power forward Dirk Nowitzki this summer, could be in position to recruit a max-level star using the Nowitzki/Chandler pairing as bait.
The biggest question: What will Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, set to be a free agent next week, make of Jackson's decision to replenish New York's future assets and prospects as opposed to acquiring talent capable of helping Anthony win now? Chandler was a critical piece during New York's 54-win season in 2012-13, and the capped-out Knicks have no obvious method of finding a comparable replacement in the short term.
Shipping out Felton was surely at the top of Jackson's to-do list, and he wisely wasted no time completing the addition by subtraction. Still, this trade looks better as a symbol of a new, savvier era than it does as an exchange of talent. It's important to remember that not every trade that is far more sensical than last year's Andrea Bargnani deal is automatically a great decision.
Yes, Chandler is coming off of a down year, but this just wasn't an excellent return for his services. Consider: the Suns got the Wizards' 2014 first-round pick for Marcin Gortat last fall, while the Knicks have only Calderon, seldom-used parts and second-round picks to show here. Calderon is a nice player but he represents only a stopgap solution for New York at this point, given his age, and a somewhat spendy one at that. Swapping Chandler for an above-average point guard capable of running the show for years would have been a no-brainer, but that's not really what happened here. Larkin admirers might view him as the key to this package; if that was the case, there had to be a cleaner way to acquire him without ceding Chandler.
The timing of this rebuilding move is curious, as this isn't exactly what you would expect from a team hoping to impress a franchise player like Anthony, who just turned 30 and is anxious to achieve postseason success immediately. Additionally, taking on Calderon's contract rather than waiting out Chandler's expiring contract cuts meaningfully into New York's flexibility in 2015.
File this one under "Better late than never." Dallas never should have let Chandler leave following their 2011 title run, and they paid for that decision by missing out on two quality seasons from Chandler in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Although he might seem older than he actually is, Chandler theoretically has plenty of basketball left in him. Dallas understood that Nowitzki needed a better interior complement than he's had over the last few years, and Chandler fills that hole (a hole his own departure created, of course) quite well. What if Chandler's injury issues continue? Oh well, Dallas didn't part with any A-list assets and he's not owed anything past this season.
The next step for the Mavericks will be to figure out a real solution at point guard, but that's always an easier position to address than center, especially with Monta Ellis on board to handle the offense-initiation when necessary. The cost to re-acquire a proven center wasn't that painful, and the Mavericks didn't seriously compromise their ability to go big-game hunting in free agency.